Fred Alsberg

Late Friday rays ricochet
from the sheen
on parked cars
as I pass a Walgreens
where a window washer
shaves a foamy pane.
Then this guy flags me down
in front of Foremost Liquors.
has long blonde hair slicked back,
a purple corduroy suit,
his shirt, mustard-colored, silky.

He cradles a brown paper bag
with Foremost stenciled
in large, blue letters.
Bottles clink
as he settles in the seat.
He smiles, amused by the sound,
says, “Tonight, man, I’m havin’ me a party!
Devon and Lincoln, please.”

I kind of like the way his words
come out a bit rusty
around the edges.
I start the meter,
ease my way into
the sluggish, rush-hour river.
“Yep, spent a hundred dollars,”
he says, patting the bag proudly,
“but hey, juice makes the chicks cut loose.

S’why I invited my friends here—
Johnny Walker, Jose Cuervo.
I got Bacardi light, bro.
I got Tangueray. Servin’ ribtips,
chips, and my own homemade salsa too.
We know them ladies love to eat; don’t we?”
A bump makes bottles in the sack
again chime a bit,
like glasses after a toast.

Now if you know me
you know I wouldn’t mind a taste,
but this guy tells me he’s gotta get
his suit outta the cleaners
by where he lives.
Wants me to wait
while he runs in.
He’ll take care of me…
so I say, “Sure,” with the meter
in red digital numbers
reading six-eighty-five.

Fact is, even dimes count,
when the tires you’re ridin’
are worse than ones you’ve seen
on the side of a dock.
Besides, it’s Friday:
With the meter climbing,
I’m on auto-pilot—my mind
sneaking a midnight peek
through the keyhole
into Flashy’s crib,
where some lady
wearing a poppy-orange skirt
and black stockings
is shakin’ it
to loud, bouncy sounds,
and some dude in a fedora’s
usin’ a straight razor
and small mirror
to dice white powder down to dust.

“Pull over there,” Flashy interrupts,
pointing across the seat
to a place called Young’s Cleaners,
a spot right out front.
“I’ll just leave my liquor here
while I run in quick.
Don’t leave on me, man.”
He sets the sack on the seat
and scoots inside. Through the window
I see him talking to a little Chinese lady.
I turn up the radio,
listen to the dispatcher’s
rhythmic chatter,
not that I’m plannin’
to bid on an order.
I’m thinkin’ about
icy beer and sleek chiquitas
I’ll find later at the Tally Ho Club.
I try to remember who’s playin’ tonight,
but soon I’m back to tiny bubble-beads
rising through gold,
the long, elbow-burnished bar;
I mean, I’m almost there.
With the fare ten-ninety-five
I check for Flashy
and he’s…

I reach back into his bag,
grab the neck of a bottle.
It lifts too easily to the light,
empty green glass
with Coca Cola written in white.


Fred Alsberg studied with the late John Clellon Holmes while at the University of Arkansas earning his MFA. His work has appeared in Greensboro Review, Rhino, and Louisiana Review.